Charlottesville Renames Emancipation Park…Again

Emancipation Park
Market Street Park
Photo: The Roanoke Times

Charlottesville City Council has voted to rename Emancipation Park and Justice Park — formerly Lee Park and Jackson Park after Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson — to Market Street Park and Court Square Park, respectively. Following months of public surveys, members of the Council voted 4-1 in favor of the changes; Councilor Wes Bellamy was the sole opponent to the measure.

The Council first changed the names in June 2017 after the City’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Race, Memorials and Public Spaces recommended removing tributes to leaders of the Confederacy. Supporters of the modification asserted that by replacing “Lee” and “Jackson” with “Emancipation” and “Justice,” the Council would make necessary strides towards dispelling racial tensions in Charlottesville.

The opposite proved to be true, however, as the perceived expunging of Confederate and Southern history brought members of the Ku Klux Klan and the Loyal White Knights to Justice Park for a July demonstration. By August, the “Unite the Right” rally had descended on the City, with many protesters focusing their complaints on the City’s vote to remove the century-old statue of Robert E. Lee from Emancipation Park.

By December 2017, Mary Carey, leader of the Charlottesville chapter of the Unity Coalition, submitted a petition to the Council, alleging that by selecting the names “Emancipation” and “Justice” without neighborhood input or feedback from the black community, Councilors had done the City much more harm than good.

Carey wrote that the Council’s choice of “Emancipation” was “insulting” and “thoughtless,” and demonstrated “a lack of care for the people of color” in Charlottesville.

“The re-naming of R.E.LEE park to ‘EMANCIPATION’ park is not ACCEPTABLE, by the citizens of Charlottesville, the African American community, or the people of color,” Carey’s petition reads. “The healing starts here, with building a more perfect union with a new name…that reflects the community’s wishes and is done transparently!”

According to Carey’s petition, the suggestions of “Market Street” and “Court Square” were proposals directly from Charlottesville residents, but were passed over by a small group of five Councilors in favor of their own ideas. The City voted Monday to embrace “Market Street” and “Court Square” after all — an acknowledgement of constituents’ suggestions that Carey says is all too rare.

“Just because you’re the senior member of the City Council doesn’t mean your word means anything. You have stabbed black people in the back for years,” Carey told The Daily Progress. “You’ve got so many in here in this room who think you’re all right, but you’re not all right.”

The City has allocated $500,000 to fund the changes in park signage — in person, in publications, and on the internet — a decision called into question online by some Charlottesville residents. 

“$500K for new signs? You have to be kidding,” one commenter wrote. Another added: “It’s still Lee and Jackson Parks as far as most are concerned. Nice job on the half mil, City Council. Very effective.”

To read more about the controversy surrounding Charlottesville’s Confederate statues, click here.


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